Atlanta Receives a Grade of “F” for Spending Transparency

New Georgia PIRG Education Fund Report Compares Atlanta to Other Major Cities Across America

Georgia PIRG Education Fund

ATLANTA –Atlanta received a grade of “F” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by the Georgia PIRG Education Fund. The report reviews Atlanta’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

“Atlanta scored very low in our study because the city provides very little information beyond what is provided in the city’s standard budget documents. The city lacks checkbook-level city spending information.  Atlanta should prioritize transparency efforts in order to catch up with the advancing standards of Transparency 2.0.” said Laura Murray, Advocate for the Georgia PIRG Education Fund.

The report, “Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities,” reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.

The grade of “F” nonetheless recognizes that Atlanta provides basic budget documents online. The city lacks checkbook-level spending information and there is plenty of other room for improvement.  For example, Atlanta should provide spending data that is searchable by city department, keyword, and vendor and is downloadable for data analysis.  The city should post historical expenditure data from previous fiscal years and provide tax subsidy information that lists the benefits specific companies receive from the city’s tax credits, exemptions and abatements.  The city should also develop a one-stop transparency website to centralize city spending information and make it easier for citizens to access such information.

The report found that 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Three cities received “A” grades and lead the pack in delivering easy-to-access, encompassing information on government spending: New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Five cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online: Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland.

“The ability to see how government spends its funds is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility,” said Murray.

The report makes a series of recommendations for cities to follow in order to achieve spending transparency, including:

  • Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.
  • Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.
  • Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.
  • Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.
  • Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.
  • Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.

“City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health.  Spending transparency can help Atlanta’s population hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Murray.

The new study extends Georgia PIRG Education Fund’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Georgia’s spending transparency to the other 49 states: Following the Money 2012.

The “Transparency in City Spending” report can be downloaded here.

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Georgia PIRG Education Fund, the Georgia Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.